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Reef Sharks Generate Millions of Tourist Dollars for Palau

Forget about the spurious benefits of eating shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese delicacy that is said to be responsible for the needless destruction of some 73 million sharks a year. In Palau, the first country in the world to proclaim a shark sanctuary, the sharks that frequent the Pacific island country’s reefs generate enormous financial benefits.

A single reef shark can contribute almost U.S.$2 million in its lifetime to the economy of Palau, according to a new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia.

“The analysis quantified the economic benefits of the shark-diving industry to the Pacific island nation and found that its value far exceeded that of shark fishing,” Pew said in a news statement about the research. Pew Environment Group — a Washington-based group that works to advance scientific understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental problems, design innovative policy solutions to these problems and mobilize public support for their implementation — commissioned the study.

The research focused on an estimated 100 reef sharks that frequent the five major dive sites in Palau. The study did not take into account the sharks in Palau waters that do not regularly visit the dive sites.

“Sharks can literally be a ‘million-dollar’ species and a significant economic driver,” said Mark Meekan, principal research scientist at AIMS. “Because of their low rates of reproduction and late maturity, shark populations have been driven into a global decline due to fishing. Yet our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target.”

Sharks are the top predators that keep the ecosystem healthy, and on top of that they bring much more money through tourism than fishing, said marine becologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic Fellow.  Sala is actively engaged in research, exploration, communication, and application of scientific knowledge related to the conservation of marine ecosystems. “If everyone is worried about the economy, it makes much more sense to keep sharks in the water than killing them. They are the sharks with the golden eggs,” he said in an email to National Geographic News Watch.

Findings from the AIMS study, which looked at the reef sharks observed at Palau’s major dive sites, include:

  • The estimated annual value to the tourism industry of an individual reef shark that frequents these sites was U.S.$179,000, or US$1.9 million over its lifetime;
  • Shark diving brings approximately US$18 million annually to the Palauan economy, approximately eight percent of the country’s gross domestic product;
  • The annual income in salaries paid by the shark-diving industry was an estimated US$1.2 million; and
  • The annual tax income to Palau generated by shark diving was approximately 14 percent of the country’s business tax revenue.
Shark Fin Soup (Photo by Michael James Kavanagh)


“Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year primarily for their fins, which are used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup,” Pews Environment Group said in its statement. “The Pacific Island States have been among the first to recognize the danger of this unsustainable rate of consumption. In 2009, Palau President Johnson Toribiong declared Palauan waters to be a shark sanctuary in his address to the United Nations General Assembly. Since then, the U.S. state of Hawaii, the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands all banned the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins.”

“Shark tourism can be a viable economic engine,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Overfishing of sharks can have disastrous effects on ocean ecosystems, but this study provides a compelling case that can convince more countries to embrace these animals for their benefit to the ocean and their value to a country’s financial well-being.”

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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  1. […] by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Western Australia showed that a single reef shark can generate $1.9 million dollars over the course of its lifetime, compared to $108 if it were fished and sold. In Playa del Carmen, […]

  2. […] Palau, which created the first shark sanctuary, has proven that responsible shark-related tourism can generate tremendous income for locals without harming shark populations, as divers value the chance to observe sharks in their natural habitat. Trends like these create positive perceptions of these magnificent creatures, so support sustainable shark tourism if you have the chance. […]

  3. Giorgio Forlani
    May 17, 2015, 7:48 am

    get off your hands from sharks!!!!!

  4. Jasmine
    santa clarita
    July 25, 2013, 1:12 pm

    I really love the beauty of getting to read about wildlife animals especially sharks i am so proud of those who are bold to adventure them selves.

  5. sharmaine unabia
    November 20, 2011, 5:05 am

    ..wow…amazing .i really like……….it………i love studying about marine lifes……………itz so nice,,,,,,,,,,

  6. […] Blog Post: Reef Sharks Generate Millions of Tourist Dollars for Palau Keywords: conservation, endangered species, fish, fisheries, fishing, food, marine protected […]

  7. Wubble
    June 7, 2011, 10:03 pm

    ‎”the economic benefits of the shark-diving industry”, that’s the language Palau understands. Thanks god there are still enough sharks in Palau that it’s worth going there as a diver. But where is the tiping point? What if a country doesn’t attract enough dive-tourists to generate the financial benefits that outweigh the shark fin trade? Is money the only reason for conservation? Praising Palau for protecting their sharks is not as noble as it seems. At the same time Palau is still supporting japanese efforts to legalize commercial whaling at the IWC meetings. Why? I guess supporting the Japanese generates more financial benefits than the Palauan whale-watching industry!

    June 7, 2011, 4:57 am

    agood shark is a dead shark

  9. […] Read the full article […]

  10. simão
    Almada Portugal
    May 8, 2011, 3:52 pm

    thats mad you all! thats a lot of money!!!

  11. vijay bhattararai
    May 7, 2011, 11:45 pm

    I love the nature and its belongings to. so please help out this animals…………..

  12. Jeffrey C Hok Lam
    Hong Kong
    May 6, 2011, 9:06 am

    Impressive indeed…millions,wow…personally,i really like wildlife…and i sure recommend and like this act.

  13. Jeff
    Northwest Territories
    May 4, 2011, 10:29 pm

    I believe it. I will be paying thousands of dollars this summer to dive with sharks in the Tuamotus. We need more marine conservation!

  14. Ronald Sequeira
    May 4, 2011, 5:22 am

    Dear Sir,
    I am really impressed with the story you have published online. I am in the process of starting a Nature magazine in India which will involve, science, wildlife, forests & people associated with conserving our nature. I wanted to have a brief chat with you on the same. I request you to kindly help me with your email id so that i could send in all the details.

    thank you..


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    May 4, 2011, 12:27 am

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